News in Brief 15 March 2017 (PM)

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A young boy sits in front of a destroyed building in Homs, Syria. Photo: WFP/Abeer Etefa (file)

Peace in Syria is a "moral and political imperative": UN chief

The UN Secretary-General has issued two "urgent" appeals to all parties involved in Syria's civil war, as it enters its seventh year this week.

In a statement released on Wednesday, António Guterres said that Syrian civilians were "victims of one of the worst conflicts of our time."

He urged all parties to make the most of the 30 December ceasefire, brokered by Russia and Turkey, and to enhance it further and "ensure that humanitarian aid can reach all those in need…without any obstacles or impediments."

He added that everyone with influence over the combatants needed to help put an end to division for the sake of peace, especially at the upcoming intra-Syrian negotiations in Geneva, sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

"Peace in Syria is a moral and political imperative" for the world, said the UN chief, that "cannot wait."

"Swift guarantees" needed to stem rise in hate speech targeting minorities

"Swift guarantees" are needed to help safeguard the rights of minorities across the world, according to the UN independent expert on minority issues.

In her final address to the Human Rights Council in Geneva as Special Rapporteur, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye expressed concern about an alarming increase in hate speech, xenophobic rhetoric and incitement to hatred against minorities worldwide, alongside a rise in extremism.

"We need unequivocal political will, as well as strengthened legislative and institutional frameworks, to help create conditions for cohesive societies where there is unity in diversity," she said.

The Special Rapporteur stressed the importance of accurate data and statistics on minorities for policy-making, and called for dedicated institutions in charge of minority rights and relations to be established.

The aim, she said, would be to close the gap between often ambitious policies at the outset, and putting them into practice.

"The existence of an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority in a given State does not depend on decisions of the government but needs to be established by objective criteria," she added.

"Digital gender divide" growing, says UN Broadband Working Group

There's a growing "digital gender divide" which needs to be bridged if women and girls are going to participate fully in the online world.

That's the conclusion of a UN broadband internet working group report published on Wednesday, under the auspices of the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.

Figures from the mobile device operators' group GSMA estimate that in low- and middle-income countries, there are 200 million fewer women than men who own a mobile, and those that do are less likely to get online with their phones.

The working group report found that the global gender gap widened from 11 per cent in 2013 to 12 per cent in 2016, with that figure rising to 31 per cent in Least Developed Countries, and 23 per cent for Africa.

The report identifies four specific ways of closing the gap, namely compiling better evidence through data collection; integrating gender equality targets, involving women at all levels; addressing barriers women face, and supporting multi-stakeholder cooperation.

Matthew Wells, United Nations.

Duration: 2'45"

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